Information Architecture in a SharePoint World – Part 3

By | September 5, 2011

This is the third instalment in a multi-part series on Information Architecture (IA) and how it should be considered in a SharePoint world.

Value added SharePoint…

Last time out I left you with a bold statement of a key value proposition of SharePoint as I saw it:

The value of SharePoint is not only in its ability to present users with information, it’s in its ability to enable the sharing knowledge that would have otherwise not have been shared and presented to users as information.

Although bold, this statement rings very true of how SharePoint can really bring value to an organisation and provides major self-justification for its use in a greater and wider context then just as an “intranet” or “document store”. 

To get to this greater and wider place, investment is required in the system, not just in a technical or implementation context but in the (arguably more important) area of governance and its various bastard children including Information Architecture.

So Seb, why do we need effective IA..?

In order to appreciate why we need IA, we have to understand what IA is beyond the definition discussed in the previous post:

“Information Architecture for SharePoint is the design of a SharePoint construct within which information can be stored and retrieved enabling knowledge to be shared effectively.”

The clues are all here – we need an overall construct, we need a storage approach and we need a retrieval method – all of which need to support and enable effective knowledge sharing.

If all we needed for effective IA was storage and retrieval – that’s easy! 

Storage and retrieval has been around since the dawn of the personal computer, right?  Most commonly manifesting as local or networked drives, file shares have supported organisations big and small for decades and continue to provide sterling service in many settings. 

Unfortunately, the second part of our definition – “…enabling knowledge to be shared effectively” – is where file shares fall flat on their faces.

File shares, the Devil wears pRAIDa…

File shares work really well for individuals or really small, closely knitted teams.  The ability to find your own information quickly, because you know exactly where it is, is the perceived power of file shares.  Ask 100 users about file shares and 99% will tell you they love them. 

Q – Why do users love file shares? 

A – SharePoint Psych 101, Lesson 1 – people are inherently selfish creatures.  As long as they can get what they need quickly, they’re happy.  “Why should I care if my folder structure only makes sense to me?  I can find what I need…”

Q – But what about when somebody else needs your knowledge?

A – SharePoint Psych 101, Lesson 2 – people like to feel important and wanted.  If people ask them for things, even continually, they’re happy.  “I like it when Sales ask me for something; it makes me feel wanted…”

Q – But surely this interferes with you doing your own work?

A – SharePoint Psych 101, Lesson 3 – people like to have aces in their pockets to deflect scrutiny or oversight.  If they’ve got an excuse up their sleeve, they’re happy.  “I can’t get that report to you today boss, I’ve had Mike from Sales asking me for stuff he needs for an urgent proposal…”

Enough of the SharePoint Psych, you get my point.

File shares work for the individual or for small teams of users, but beyond this they work against the organisation as a whole.  Silos of information start to form, only content owners can locate information, information isn’t available to others, knowledge isn’t effectively shared and that has a consequence. 

If you can quantify cost of that consequence (the sales deal you didn’t win, the legal action you lost, the penalties for late payment of suppliers, the time taken to locate that vital contract, etc.) then you can attach value to effective IA.

This value is why we need effective IA.

Ok Seb, tell me more…

The factor that differentiates file share store and retrieve into effective IA is in how we design the construct and functionality for storage and retrieval to enable effective knowledge sharing.

In the next part of the series, I’ll continue to expand on how we manifest IA and how it relates and translates into the SharePoint World.

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